Decades-Long Toxic Waste Cleanup Efforts Inadequate, Residents Say

Residents believe that the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, where rocket engine testing and nuclear energy testing had been done for decades, subjects them to hazards such as radioactivity and chemical exposure.

A decades-long debate over toxic waste near Simi Valley continued as residents met Wednesday night to address what they feel are inadequate cleanup efforts.

The more than 2800-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory is where partial nuclear meltdowns by defense contractor Boeing Rocketdyne were kept quiet for decades. Though rocket engine testing and nuclear energy testing is no longer done at the site, the contamination remains, and residents are subject to hazards such as radioactivity and chemical exposure.

"In 2010, the government promised to clean it up. And now, politics looks like it may never get cleaned up and these people may remain at risk," UC Santa Cruz professor Dan Hirsch said. "It is critical that people stay on top of it to make sure that that contamination is cleaned up and people protected."

The Department of Energy, NASA and Boeing all oversee parts of the property and as such, each is responsible for the cleanup efforts. 

Many Simi Valley residents, however, believe that fines and cleanup efforts thus far have been inadequate. In May, NASA announced it would delay its decision to clean up the long-contaminated lab site.

"What assurances can we give them, that if they purchase this land, to build their homes on, or to keep this land for gardening or what have you, that it's safe?" Woolsey Canyon resident Paul Garrett said during a meeting in Simi Valley Wednesday night where the Physicians for Social Responsibility and other activists gathered. Those in attendance want the site restored to its original state before Boeing moved in and testing began in the 1950’s.

A separate meeting was held in nearby Bell Canyon, where others endorsed a lower standard cleanup proposal by Boeing and disputed the use of select scientific research to challenge the safety of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

Boeing told NBC4 that it's abiding by the consent order signed with DTSC in 2007 . In a statement, Boeing adds that "...we remain committed to a thorough investigation and protective cleanup based on sound science, regulatory process and community participation."

Bell Canyon resident Abe Weitzberg argued that while people may use studies as the basis for fear that cancers were coming from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, he noted that the scientist behind the study had himself said that they were not.

Former Santa Susana Field Laboratory neighbor Joan Hunter believes the site contributed to her skin cancers. Hunter is now suing Boeing for its handling of radioactive materials.

"To this date I've had removed about 130 basal cell carcinomas from my face and my body," Hunter said. "The worst affected has been my right eye. I've had about 25 tumors around my eye."

NBC4's Lolita Lopez contributed to this report.

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